Situationer: GDA also losing patience as PTI finds little time to consider coalition partners’ issues

Updated January 19, 2020

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GDA chief Pir Sibghatullah Shah Rashdi alias Pir Pagara. — APP/File
GDA chief Pir Sibghatullah Shah Rashdi alias Pir Pagara. — APP/File

HYDERABAD: After Mut­tahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) made public its differences with the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) earlier this week, there is growing disillusionment within the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) — the ruling party’s other important ally in the federal government from Sindh.

GDA — mainly an anti-PPP alliance — feels that if the PTI does not respond with positive frame of mind to the issues being raised by it, it may become hard for it to face PPP in Sindh.

The GDA leadership has conveyed its concerns to the PTI leadership, including the Sindh governor, in respect of core issues of Sindh like gas, electricity, water, agriculture, federal government jobs etc.

In his recent meeting with GDA chief Pir Sibghatullah Shah Rashdi alias Pir Pagara, Governor Imran Ismail assured him of a positive response from the federal government on all issues the GDA has raised so far.

With three lawmakers in the National Assembly and 14 in the Sindh Assembly, GDA is PTI’s second important ally in Sindh after MQM-P. PTI is trying hard to keep the two allies in the coalition and in a fresh such attempt, a delegation led by Defence Minister Pervez Khattak visited MQM-P offices in Karachi in the wake of the resignation of the party’s convener, Dr Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui, from the federal cabinet.

‘We won’t rock the boat’

“We don’t want to rock the boat,” said Sardar Rahim, GDA’s spokesman. “GDA doesn’t want to push federal government given its pre-occupation with other equally important matters but it also needs to realise that people of Sindh feel as if they are between the devil and deep blue sea,” he added.

Dr Safdar Abbasi, an important GDA figure from Larkana whose nephew had beaten PPP’s Jamil Ahmed Soomro in the October 2019 by-election, points out that “it looks as if PTI is not yet clear on important issues of Sindh”.

“Initially we didn’t press government after polls as PTI was handling economic and national security issues simultaneously. But since then, it didn’t pay attention to Sindh’s issues seriously,” said Abbasi, who founded his PPP-Workers along with his wife, Naheed Khan. Both had been Benazir Bhutto’s close aides.

Abbasi asserts that even in those areas where GDA candidates had lost in the previous polls, the defeat was with only a narrow margin and it won’t be fair if their areas were neglected in terms of development. “Then there are federal jobs in Sindh that can be given on a merit basis. All federal bodies, like the Hyderabad and Sukkur electric companies, need to show a positive attitude towards us. We expect that officers like chief secretary, who are posted by federal government, to ensure fairness in administrative matters. It will be hard to face the ‘Zardari party’ if PTI turns a blind eye [to Sindh],” he said.

GDA had made its presence felt ahead of July 2018 polls but ended up with a fewer number of seats and even PML-F, which basically leads this alliance, failed to make major gains in Khairpur and Sanghar, formerly its strongholds. PPP on the other hand got more directly contested seats in the last polls than it got in 2013.

One GDA leader who wished not to be named commented that “nothing better is expected from this government as it lacks capacity and whose minister arrogantly puts up a boot in a live talk show”. He was of the view that those who otherwise did not have the potential to become councillors have become ministers in this government. “They are nincompoops,” he remarked laughingly over phone from Karachi.

Benefits not reaching Sindh

Another GDA leader observes that fruits of PTI’s federal projects like Ehsaas and Sehat cards are not reaching the people of Sindh. “Provincial component of each government is there in these programmes but in Sindh we don’t hear anything about it as if it is diverted to other provinces,” he commented.

GDA sources say that the alliance is represented by Dr Fehmida Mirza in federal cabinet as she holds interprovincial coordination (IPC) ministry and has been raising core issues of Sindh regularly. She has briefed the prime minister about water shortage in Badin, the tail-end district of Sindh in terms of water distribution, but things have not improved as yet.

Such disenchantment is primarily on account of the fact that most subjects have been devolved to provinces in the post-18th Amendment political landscape. PPP rules the roost in Sindh once again after 2008 — third time in a row — with a clear majority. It goes unscathed.

In terms of water distribution, provincial irrigation department plays a crucial role in ‘making or breaking anyone’. Especially in tail-end areas where water becomes a matter of life and death for farmers. Even otherwise, Sindh being the lower riparian always cries hoarse over unfair distribution of water.

“An efficient telemetry system [introduced by federal government years back] can help resolve things to some extent because sharing of actual water flows is always not done so people keep estimating figures,” said a GDA leader, adding that “likewise, federal and provincial governments have to cooperate with each other in the backdrop of 18th Amendment to ensure proper devolution at grass-root level. Neither government can abdicate its authority,” he said.

According to Sardar Rahim, “GDA sincerely hopes PTI government will make some positive headway in the matters brought to its notice so far by us. Therefore we are keeping our hopes alive”. He said GDA has avoided giving any deadline to PTI government or Sindh governor, who recently called on Pir Pagara; and the alliance could sit with them again. He said that real problem was all about providing relief to people because “ousting a government alone does not serve the purpose”.

From Sardar Rahim’s point of view, water shortage is a burning issue of Sindh in every Kharif season and people of Sindh want that the Indus River System Authority (Irsa) should make sure that proper shares of water for Sindh are made available. He refers to the Chashma-Jhelum link canal issue — a channel over the Indus. Irsa has recently issued a no-objection certificate (NoC) to Punjab for a 25MW powerhouse to be built over it. “You know this [NoC] can make the canal a perennial one at the cost of Sindh’s water interests and that’s why we want PTI to come clean on it,” he said.

Published in Dawn, January 19th, 2020